On October 22, Windham Eagle
reporter Rob McClure spoke with state representative and local resident Mike McClellan
(R-Raymond). McClellan is the state representative for House District 103,
which includes four towns, Frye Island, Raymond, part of Standish and also part
Here is an edited version of
The Windham Eagle (TWE):
Thank you Representative McClellan for meeting with us today. Could you talk a
little about yourself for those who may not be familiar with you and how you
came to Maine?
Rep. McClellan: I’m from Poughkeepsie,
New York, arguably as pretty as Maine in some ways. I was at camp in New York
where I met my wife who is from Maine. I stalked her for a week until she gave
me a date (chuckles). We went to the camp
for several summers and made eight-hour drives together, so we broke up a
million times, mainly because of the drives. We went to school together in Arkansas and eventually
decided to get married. We lived in New York for two years, but the
opportunities seemed better in Maine. Working in mental health at the time,
where I was going to go was definitely limited in New York, where as in Maine,
anyone can talk to the Governor really, if you need to. I love Maine, think it’s
amazing and would never go back. Been here since 1986.
TWE: So opportunity drew you
Rep. McClellan: Yes, that and
luck. My wife’s parents helped us find a house in Raymond, and it had three
acres. And I would say God played a role too.
TWE: In 2011, the Daily Kos wrote
an article criticizing you for writing an editorial piece claiming “God sent me
to Augusta to work for the people and state” and argued religion has no place
in politics. How do you respond to such criticism?
Rep. McClellan: Many of us have
cited the Bible a bunch of times - there are - you know, good rules in there.
Since then, I’ve stopped reading the papers, not yours, but the bigger papers,
like the daily papers in Portland. I stopped reading that crud- it is one sided
and doesn’t meet my needs, so I go online to find my news now. As far as the quote
goes, I was referring to Governor LePage’s wife, who spoke on the National Day
of Prayer and at the end of the prayer she said “in Jesus’s name”, two
columnist from Augusta just tore her apart. And I was just driven to respond by
writing a letter to the editor. Why, when Jesus is my strength, I couldn’t get
up in the morning without him and then go to this place in Augusta, which is a
pretty strange place and ask me to leave my shield at the door? I read a few of
the comments and they were just shredding me apart. I don’t understand why we
can say anything in the world and talk about all kinds of bizarre stuff, yet we
can’t say God. I don’t get it. I’m old enough to remember when church was the
foundation, a place you turned to for welfare if you were in trouble.
TWE: Another paper accused
you of trying to change the interpretation of Church and State. What was that
Rep. McClellan: I was also
misquoted by another reporter and it made it sound like I was trying to change
the definition of church and state, which actually generated hate mail. And I
would argue that the definition of church and state doesn’t say I can’t say
God, it just ensures I can’t force you to say God. It’s there to protect us
from having Government force religion on us, part of the reason the Pilgrims
left England when the king said no more Catholics, now you are all going to go
to the state church.
Rep. McClellan: It’s funny. A
neighbor, who doesn’t agree with me politically, wrote a scathing, scathing
letter because he believed it to be true- and why wouldn’t he – after all, it
was in the paper? And I began to write a response to it, but ultimately decided
to let it go, and decided it doesn’t really matter and erased it. Sometimes
when you fight, it only makes it news. There have been a few times I have been
called out on controversial things and I’ve let it go, then it just goes away
in a few days.
TWE: Speaking of newspapers,
Governor LePage issued an order to his staff not to talk to several specific papers.
Those papers are 75 percent owned by Donald Sussman, the billionaire husband of
democratic senator Chellie Pingree. Should this be a concern to Mainers or
anyone else who may be looking for unbiased reporting?
Rep. McClellan: Well, the
Governor has had several run-ins with papers that take his comments out of
context and I think he just said enough is enough. It seems apparent that they
are not going to give him the time of day anyways. As far as Mainers are
concerned, it’s a multifaceted answer. This is America after all, why can’t
Sussman buy those papers? He should be able to do what he wants - it’s his
money. If you don’t like what’s on TV, you can just turn the channel. As a
society, we forget we have choices. If you don’t like Mike McClellan, go vote
for someone else. So while Sussman has the money and the right, I don’t think
it’s real smart. He’s not winning votes for Chellie Pingree. He’s probably
losing votes because independents see right through it, and thinking wow that
TWE: According a recent
report by the Maine Heritage Foundation, Maine has nearly 1 in 3 people on some
sort of public assistance. More than 35 percent of the budget is devoted to
public welfare. This is a higher proportion of money than the State of Maine
spends on education, roads, hospitals and police protection combined. And by
2016, there will be more Mainers enrolled in welfare than are working jobs in
the state’s private sector. How serious is this and what does it mean?
Rep. McClellan: I have a lot
on that one. As a kid, I read an article about a Scandinavian country that had
generational welfare, meaning the family never got off welfare as it was just
passed down the family line. I think we are starting to see that. I would even
go as far as saying it is modern slavery. In Africa,
there are poor people who live on dirt floors and own nothing. They are truly
poor, but also some of the happiest people. In America, poor means something much
different. The poor here have cars, TVs and phones. I’m not saying they
shouldn’t, but it is a much different perspective. If you receive X amount of
dollars each week from the government without working, where is the incentive
to work 40 hours a week and make seven dollars more per week. The motivation is
not there. You might even lose money.
TWE: And what happens if
Maine has more people on welfare than working as predicted?
Rep. McClellan: Chaos. At
that point, I don’t know what happens to our society. I was told Maine has a
waiting list of around 3,000 severely disabled people who cannot work. Yet we
are covering many people who could probably do something. To me, government
exists for those people on that waiting list. In the past 20 some years, Maine has been very
generous with benefits, above the federal standards. When we asked to align the
standards with the federal level, we were told we couldn’t lower them. It’s all
about sustainability. I can offer you everything in the world, but if it blows
up, then what good is it. I just try to be real and if you project out, you can
see it won’t work. Look at the recent government debit card snafu, some cards
were unusable, while others were able to fill multiple carts because the cards
went unlimited. If the focus remains “what’s in it for me” rather than what JFK
said [ask not what you can do for your country…] then our country may be lost.
And that brings us back to how sustainable is this?
TWE: Do you get sense the
country is divided?
Rep. McClellan: Yes. Not many
in the middle today, very polarized. The two sides don’t seem to get along. Back
in the eighties, Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil used to argue all daylong, then afterwards
head upstairs together, smoke cigars and drink their favorite beverage. I don’t
get sense that Reid and Boehner do that today. There is not a lot of civil
discourse going on right now. The cynic in me sees most activities center on
getting reelected and not focused on the good of the country. It’s not hard for
anyone to stand back and say, that’s not good for the country. I have two
sisters that are staunch Obama supporters. I can’t even have a conversation
TWE: Any Washington senate political
Rep. McClellan: I don’t think
so, although…I didn’t think I was going to do this. If God has a plan, I know
he does, I just don’t know what it is yet. It’s been hard on my family because
of the time. I’ve seen what the leadership is like on both sides in Augusta and project Washington
is probably the same. The system seems like it just doesn’t work. I was one of
only six people who voted against the bond issue, I felt those 3,000 disabled
people deserved better. Consequently, shortly after the bond issue passed we
started to hear about the financial problems concerning education, roads and
the National Guard armories. Why weren’t these things looked at before? I was
looking forward to a robust discussion on the issue. Instead the leadership
came in and said, “Let’s pass some bonds today”. I’m tired of it and
frustrated, especially when a vote such as the bond issue gets passed 145-6 and
I’m one of the six.
TWE: Will you continue your
local political work, once your term ends?
Rep. McClellan: Yes. My
intent is to continue. I consider myself a community leader. But outside of
Maine is like going from the Seadogs to the Red Sox and I‘m not sure I have
that kind of fortitude or sense, nor the support to raise that kind of money.
Also, because of the way I played my hand in Augusta, staying out of the
cliques and away from the parties won’t help my cause. I like to go up there,
do my job and come home. The people that stay up there tend to have a good time
and bond. I would rather come home to my family. Sometimes I’ve gotten home at
3 a.m. and driven back up at 9 a.m. It’s worth it to me (chuckles). I’m not a
typical politician, I speak my mind and that ticks off too many people.
TWE: What are your top three
issues concerning Maine?
Rep. McClellan: Welfare
reform, education and constitutional rights.
TWE: Why does it seem that
every politician that leaves Maine and goes off to Washington becomes a
Rep. McClellan: (Chuckles)
Good question, I have to be careful here…no I don’t, I don’t care. Everything
I’m saying here has to be conjecture, I haven’t been down there. I just think
the system is innate that you are going to make relationships that are going to
be beneficial. I’m not saying they are corrupt, but the system lends itself to
getting invited to parties, organizations and groups. Look at Harry Reid, all
his sons are lobbyists, his wife has a job funded by the government – yeah I
think there is some corruption down there. Not that people from Maine go down there and
get corrupted, it just rewards those who do. The high reelection rate basically
insures once you make it down there, you can stay there. It’s a club. You can
see why people run so hard for those positions. Even the people down there that
have done horrible things, they still get to stay. I guess the whole system
just rewards itself and maybe some lose perspective because of it.
TWE: What about Augusta? Do
some politicians lose perspective there as well?
Rep. McClellan: I think so.
Not on the same level as Washington
of course, but it happens. I’ve seen polls where people want to clear out
Congress and start over. Maybe that’s not a bad idea. What’s ironic is I’m part
of the problem, lecturing here. I don’t feel like we had a good session this
year. I thought the bond issue was a cop out. My party is the party of “no new
taxes” and yet, I thought we raised them too easily, especially in light of the
fact we are taking in record revenue. Not that all taxes are bad. You just have
to convince me why it’s a good idea.
TWE: Well, Representative McClellan,
thank you very much for talking with us today.
Rep. McClellan: Thank you, my